04/03/2024

Brisbane showcased its class against Essendon at Moreton Bay Central Sports Complex. (Photo: @aflwomens Twitter)

A hungry Brisbane Lions outfit easily accounted for Essendon on Sunday afternoon, making the most of its territory dominance to run away with a 44-point victory. 

It was all one-way traffic in the first half, with Brisbane applying significant pressure to lock the ball inside its forward end and generate repeat inside 50 entries.

A reflection of the Lions’ control over the contest, the home-side recorded 45 inside 50s across the duration of the match compared to just 13 for the Bombers. This was off the back of the Lions gaining the ascendancy at stoppages and setting up well behind the ball. 

Remarkably, the Lions managed to restrict Natalie Wood’s side to only two inside 50 entries prior to half-time, culminating in a scoreless opening half for the Bombers. 

Speaking to the media post-game, Brisbane coach Craig Starcevich was pleased with his side’s ability to bounce back from a shock loss to Richmond last weekend.

“Today the desperation level was good from the get-go. In fact, training all week has been in the right headspace so it was good to see some reward for effort and get back to where we need to be playing,” Starcevich told media. 

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Led by its seasoned midfield brigade, the Lions dominated field position for the majority of the day, giving its dangerous forwards multiple looks at goal. Jesse Wardlaw was the major beneficiary, kicking 2.3 on her return to the side. 

If it were not for some inaccuracy in front of goal, Brisbane could have heaped even more pain on an under-siege Bombers defence. Amongst its 8.14, the Lions extraordinarily hit the post on five occasions, three of which came from the boot of Greta Bodey.

Nevertheless, it was an emphatic performance from the highly fancied Lions, who shape as serious premiership contenders in season seven.

Adding to the joys of victory was Ally Anderson’s record-breaking day, with the 28-year-old midfielder becoming the first ever Indigenous player to reach 1000 career disposals in AFLW history. Anderson was immense against the Bombers, accumulating 23 disposals, seven clearances and six tackles. 

Starcevich was full of praise for Anderson post-game, recognising her contributions to the club across her storied career. 

“That’s a huge achievement and the fact that she’s the first Indigenous player to do that highlights it even more.”

“The way she’s grown as a person and a player over six or seven years has been amazing.”

Another vital member of the Brisbane Lions midfield group thus far in season seven has been Cathy Svarc. Renowned for her ferocious attack on the ball, the 30-year-old was once again a driving force for the Lions in its engine room, laying eight tackles and booting a goal from her nine disposals. 

Speaking exclusively to The Inner Sanctum post-game, Svarc was pleased with the brand of football executed by her side against Essendon. 

“I think this week we really wanted to just get back to playing our game and those team-first acts, and even our spread and run and utilise that,” Svarc told The Inner Sanctum.

“It’s a bit of a bigger ground up here and we could make the most of that today, so across the board we worked really well.”

“We knew Essendon [are] a really good attacking side as well so we tried to win that midfield battle pretty early and try and get a lot of pressure on them to really give ourselves the advantage going forward.”

This emphasis on gaining the ascendancy through the midfield saw the Lions win contested possession by 31 and clearances by 17. A spread of contributors made an impact, including Emily Bates (19 disposals, 10 clearances), Sophie Conway (17 disposals) and Belle Dawes (12 disposals). 

However, Svarc was also particularly impressed with the performance of Tahlia Hickie in the ruck. 

“Tahlia had such a great game in the ruck today and she was really dominant, so I guess having a ruck like that to win a lot of those hitouts is a really great starting point.”

One of the biggest storylines of the match was also the return of veteran Brisbane defender Katie Lutkins. The 34-year-old made her first appearance since sustaining an ACL injury in January, a remarkably swift return to the elite level given the gravity of the injury.

Svarc says that Lutkins’ inclusion to the side was a welcomed boost for the team’s morale.

“It’s so exciting to see her get back. She’s worked really hard in her rehab to give herself this opportunity to come back a little bit earlier.”

“She’s such a great player. She’s one of the OG Lion’s girls and has been one of the greats within AFLW so it definitely boosts morale knowing that she’s down back there.”

“We’re all just so happy to have her out there no matter what she did today.”

From Essendon’s perspective, the defeat to the Lions leaves them with a 2-4 record at the conclusion of Round Six. 

After failing to register a score in the opening half, the Bombers produced a higher level of intensity in the third quarter. Primarily led by Madison Prespakis (20 disposals, one goal), the away-side began to create more scoring opportunities, kicking back-to-back goals during the third term. 

Other shining lights were defenders Danielle Marshall (18 disposals, four marks) and Sophie Van De Heuvel (13 disposals), both of whom battled valiantly in the face of constant Brisbane attacks. 

Speaking to the media post-game, Essendon coach Natalie Wood signalled some areas for improvement heading into the final four rounds of the home and away season. 

“There are some things in our game that we need to work on,” Wood said.

“Our ability to win the ball in the middle…our ability to halve the contest at least from a contested possession point of view but also from a clearance point of view, we need to get to work on that so that we can get our hands on the footy and then be able to start to move the ball our way.”

Essendon will be looking to respond against Geelong next Sunday in Warrnambool, whilst Brisbane will travel to Arden Street for a highly anticipated clash with North Melbourne.

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